With 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Golden State Warriors were tied with the Sacramento Kings at 58 points apiece. When the buzzer signaled the end of the quarter, the league's best team had surged to a 97-73 lead, thanks to the heroics of a soon-to-be NBA All-Star.
Klay Thompson has never made that midseason team before. But it's safe to say that he's going to get the nod to participate in the New York festivities this year after exploding for an NBA-record 37 points in the third quarter.
That's not a one-game overreaction. It's a one-quarter proper reaction.
No one in NBA history had ever gone off like that. None of the game's greatest scorers. Wilt Chamberlain didn't score 37 during any quarter of his 100-point outing. Kobe Bryant didn't when he torched the Toronto Raptors for 81 points. George Gervin and Carmelo Anthony were actually tied for the league record—"only" 33.
That past tense is key now, as the record belongs to the Golden State 2-guard. Hot doesn't even begin to describe the man who entered the quarter with 13 points and left it with 50. He was center-of-the-sun scorching. Even that might be selling him short.
I mean, just take a gander at this shot chart from NBA.com, one that helped him single-handedly outscore the Kings in the third quarter, 37-22:
Unconscious. Unflinching. Unfailing.
"I can't believe I own an NBA record. God is good, and I'm so blessed to be here healthy," he said in a postgame interview on CSN Bay Area. "Hopefully it stands for a long time. That was crazy. I don't know what happened. The zone I was in...I've never shot like that. That's about it."
Of course he hasn't shot like that. No one has throughout the nearly seven decades of NBA history.
These were not easy shots, either. Thompson was drilling contested threes with hands in his face. He was knocking down step-back jumpers in the corner. Frankly, he was just hitting everything, to the point that he was very much playing NBA basketball with a cheat code turned on.
"It [the Sacramento defense] didn't matter that much tonight," he explained after the game, essentially answering the age-old question about what a great shooter can do when no one else is on the floor. "I was really focused. I hit some tough ones. I was in a good flow. I knew I was due for a good half." The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater and Bleacher Report's Tyler Conway provide some perspective:
The (probably) 2015 All-Star scored those 37 points on just 13 shots. Thirteen. As in, one more than a dozen. He literally didn't miss a shot from anywhere on the court, finishing the quarter with 18 straight points for his team and going into the break with a 9-of-9 mark from beyond the arc.
"Maybe in elementary school I had 50 in fourth grade playing with third-graders. That was the last time I went on a scoring rush like that," Thompson reminisced.
Were his teammates making a point of feeding him the ball? Sure, but there's nothing wrong with giving the rock to the player who's beyond on fire, as long as he's not hurting the team with one heat check after another. And Thompson certainly wasn't, as he drilled literally everything he looked at, no matter how he gained possession.
Is it any wonder head coach Steve Kerr was just spewing out praise after the game on the CSN Bay Area broadcast? He came out of halftime so frustrated with his players that he told them to run whatever they wanted, then watched as the only two plays they ran were getting the ball to Thompson and, well, getting the ball to Thompson.
I told Klay that I was one of the luckiest NBA players to play with Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, David Robinson—some of the greatest players ever. As many spectacular things as Michael did, I never saw him do that. Thirty-seven in a quarter...It was phenomenal, and he saved a really bad night. We were horrible to that point, and Klay saved us.
It was reminiscent of Michael because it's otherworldly.
We've simply never seen anything like this.
Now, any doubt that Thompson was a superstar has been firmly erased. The improvement we've seen from him this year has been incredible, as he's morphed from an overrated shooter who put up numbers when his teammates got him the ball to a standout scoring stud who can create for himself, involve the rest of his team and, well, explode for more points in a 12-minute stretch that any other player in NBA history.
Heading into this Friday night contest with the Kings, Thompson was averaging 21.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. His player efficiency rating, via Basketball-Reference, was a stellar 21.8 as he filled up the stat sheet and served as a key cog for the team with the NBA's best record.
Safe to say, those numbers are about to trend even further in the right direction.
When he went to the bench near the beginning of the fourth quarter, Oracle Arena grew deafening, showering the shooting guard with raucous cheers as it celebrated an NBA record and a new career high for one of its beloved sons. With 52 points, Thompson shattered his previous mark of 41, which came in a November game against the defenseless Los Angeles Lakers.
In fact, he nearly topped that previous best in just a 12-minute stretch.
But it's not just the numbers that have helped Thompson morph into an unquestioned star and seeming All-Star lock, even in the deep landscape of the Western Conference. It's the overall confidence with which he plays now. It's the moves that he's added to his arsenal, like the ones that Ethan Sherwood Strauss described in detail for ESPN.com back in early January. And as Strauss writes, he's proved the Golden State management correct for its somewhat controversial—at the time, at least—offseason decision:
The Warriors could have traded Klay Thompson for Kevin Love. But after some deliberation this summer, the Golden State brass decided against it.
They were widely mocked at Las Vegas Summer League for overvaluing their own guy, for reasons I can understand. Thompson was a 'nice' player, but someone who seemed to be near his ceiling. He shot 3s, played hard on defense, and there wasn’t a prevailing expectation for massive growth beyond that.
If this season is to be believed, Thompson has made huge strides, demolishing even the most optimistic projections. Bluntly put, he has been better than Love so far.
There's certainly no trading Thompson for Love now.
The Cleveland Cavaliers power forward has topped out at 51 in his career, doing so against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012, and that's now one shy of Thompson's professional best. Plus, Love's only scored at least 37 points on 14 separate occasions, and he never did so in fewer than 33 minutes, per Basketball-Reference.
Twelve minutes is all it took for the man the Warriors resisted trading for him.
I watched 37 unfold, and I can't believe it. I saw each shot leave his hand, arc perfectly toward the basket and then squeeze through the bottom of the twine, and I can't believe it. I've written that he scored 37 points in a quarter, and I'm still pinching myself, wondering if I just dreamed up the best 12-minute scoring burst anyone in the world has ever seen and then decided to write about it before waking up.
But there's one thing I now absolutely believe with unflappable confidence.
Klay Thompson, no doubt about it, is a superstar.